A group of award-winning architects concerned about climate change came together in 2019 and launched an organization called Architects Declare. But now, two big-name members, Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), have both withdrawn from the group. The issue? Airports.
ZHA and Foster + Partners were among the original co-signers of a May 2019 letter spelling out the relationship between the climate crisis and the architectural profession, insisting architecture couldn’t continue with a “business as usual” approach. Since then, the movement has grown under the bigger umbrella of Construction Declares, spreading to more than 20 countries. More than 6,000 architectural firms internationally have signed Architects Declare’s original 11-point declaration.
Both ZHA and Foster + Partners have recently been involved with airport projects, including what will one day be Australia’s largest and the Beijing Daxing International Airport, a 7.5-million-square-foot project. Architects Declare gave ZHA an ultimatum to honor the organization’s principles or vamoose. ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher and the Architects Declare steering group argued over the pros and cons of fast growth, especially related to airports, before ZHA ultimately withdrew from Architects Declare.
While airports themselves can be built sustainably, promoting air travel as a form of transportation conflicts with the group’s overarching goal of decreasing emissions. One of the group’s 11 principles, “Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach,” makes it debatable whether members can design airports with a clear conscience.
The organization expects each signatory member to be self-governing and emphasizes progress over perfection. “On the basis that no single architect is currently meeting every part of the radical commitment to change, a firm ‘no public blame and shame’ policy is in place,” states the Architects Declare website. However, the group’s steering committee released a statement declaring that ZHA had overstepped the bounds. “Sadly, there remain signatory practices who appear determined to continue with business as usual,” said the statement. “This is seriously undermining the effectiveness and credibility of AD, so we call on those practices to either join the wave of positive change or have the integrity to withdraw.”